After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start―so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these "sinners," Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.
But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest's identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.
Mia Siegert's sophomore novel SOMEBODY TOLD ME released in Spring 2020 with great trade reviews (SLJ's verdict was "Highly Recommended Read") and features in Teen Vogue, Book Riot, Buzzfeed, and many more.
Siegert's debut JERKBAIT made Goodreads Best YA of May 2016, Top 12 Indie YA from Barnes & Noble Teen Blog, Top 10 YA of 2016 from AndPop!, and gained attention from SB Nation, Publishers Weekly, Barnes & Noble Teen Blog, AndPOP!, MaximumPOP! UK, VOYA Magazine, Paste Magazine, Teen Librarian Toolbox, among many others.
When not writing, Siegert is a self-taught costume designer with their husband and two cats. Their work has appeared on Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and the CW's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."
Thanks Mia for the review copy! *Disclaimer: the author and I are friends, but thoughts are my own.
I loved this book as a commentary on being bigender, recovering from sexual assault, and pointing out the hypocrisy in some church leadership. But in the end, I think it attempted to confront a topic far too massive to fit within a 250-page book.
I loved Alexis/Aleks's voice, and I especially thought their relationship with their mom and dad was sweet. It's nice to read a book that isn't really a coming-out story, so to see the main character so sure in themself was nice. I wish this focused more on their internal recovery rather than trying to solve other people's problems, because the book was quickly drowned in too much action in a short span of time.
It's difficult to frame all my thoughts in a short review, but the best way I can describe it is that it just didn't feel realistic. The book went by so fast that it was difficult to feel anchored to the characters. I don't know how to wrap up this review other than saying everything wrapped up as expected, which was entirely convenient and undercooked, but still had a good message. I wish I'd liked this book more, but it just felt like a lot of inner monologue and rhetorical questions of the main character trying to figure out who is a good christian and who is a bad christian, when really they should have been focusing on themself.
content/trigger warnings; ableism, trauma, transphobia, non-binaryphobia, misgendering, religion, mentions of domestic abuse, slut shaming, invasion of privacy, stalking, sexual assault, objectification, fetishization, homophobia, racism, disordered eating/unhealthy body image, body dysmorphia, menstruation, mentions of cancer, aphobia, f slur, internalized transphobia, internalized homophobia, kissing, sexual abuse, child sexual abuse, molestation, pedophilia, pedophilia in catholic church, murder, disfiguremisia, violence, fire, hospital, injury,
rep; aleks/alexis (mc) is bigender, queer, and russian/jewish. joey (sc) is gay. dima (sc) is gay. bernie (sc) is a woc.
(in the book, the mc uses she/her as alexis and he/him as aleks. but the author uses they/them when talking about the character out of text, so i'm using they/them here, too.)
i'm just gonna list it
— aleks/alexis is one of the most infuriating, hypocritical, judgmental main characters i've ever read — aleks/alexis assumes the sexuality of people — there's a general lack of acknowledgment of mspec identities — aleks/alexis dismissively tells bernie, who is a woman of color, that no one there "hates people like her" — aleks/alexis demands to know why bernie and joey don't leave their religion because they don't agree with every aspect or the opinions of bigoted/abusive members of their religion — i don't like the way aleks/alexis' constant negative thoughts are handled — a ged is referred to as a "worse case" when it's actually just a valid alternative — use of "baby enby", a version of "baby gay" which i hate because it's infantilizing as fuck — aleks/alexis said they dismissed the concept of grooming upon learning about it because in anime 15 year olds "get with" adults so it's not a big deal — and when joey is wondering if he groomed dima and aleks/alexis dismisses it because their age gap is "only five years" — aleks/alexis trying to educate joey on who george michael is so cringeworthy — aleks/alexis assumes the pedophile/child molester is joey because he's gay.....how was this shit published in 2020? — how does aleks/alexis sew costumes that fast? come on. — the impossibility of hearing confessions through a vent didn't bother me, but a lot of people said it ruined the book, so thought i'd mention it — for a book that calls out abuse, grooming, inappropriate relationships, there are two that are completely accepted. aleks/alexis (17) has a "romance" with bernie (20-something) and dima (18) has a relationship with joey (23?) — aleks/alexis tries to touch bernie's hair multiple times despite her pulling away each time — aleks/alexis says that they aren't "magically stoic as a boy or sobbing hysterically as a girl" and while they aren't those particular gender stereotypes, they are some stereotypes. aleks is aggressive, loud mouthed, and kind of an asshole. alexis is more subdued, quiet, and polite. they even say that alexis would sit and take her uncle's bullshit, but aleks wouldn't. — aleks/alexis very clearly has mental illnesses that are never addressed. their trauma is talked about, but i feel like these two things were kind of merged into their gender identity. or that they used their gender identity as a way to not deal/poorly deal with those things. and this ties into my feelings about the bigender rep, which i've seen others express, too, but i'm not gonna get into it more than that, because it's ownvoices rep and i'm not bigender. — aleks/alexis sympathizes throughout the entire book with a woman who physically assaulted her disabled brother during one of his meltdowns. they anonymously report it to the police, saying the disabled brother is violent and painting the sister as simply desperate, in over her head, and acting in self defense. it ends up getting the disabled brother forcibly removed from their home, family, and comfort and placed involuntarily in a hospital. when aleks/alexis finds out that this move is not going well and is told that it can be scary and stressful, they completely shrug it off, saying it could be worse. i can't even begin to describe how ableist this is. — also @ author, how are you gonna say this bigender rep isn't universal, but then tell people to read the book to learn what bigender is because it's "bigender 101"???
i only like that aleks/alexis doesn't forgive their abuser or suddenly become religious at the end
read for the newts readathon for the "260-299 pages" prompt
I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that given their scarce representation, trans people, people on the nonbinary spectrum and genderqueer people want better representation than Aleks/Alexis. Much, much better.
The Good – Clean, readable writing style – Great concept with the confessions – Bigender representation – Lots of LGBT+ characters – Supporting cast characterized decently
The Bad – Aleks/Alexis is strongly unlikeable – The bigender representation is questionable – Doesn't address any of Aleks/Alexis's actual problems! – Siegert is a meagre storyteller – "Intrusive thoughts" were overdramatic and annoying – Plots and subplots don't integrate smoothly – One (1) generically brown character – Homophobic: Automatically assumes the only other gay guy he/she knows is a pedophile – Based on what I know about cosplay and sewing, I'm 90% certain Aleks/Alexis can't make costumes that fast
Story Somebody Told Me reminds me of Ship It by Britta Lundin: a single child, queer and deep in fandom culture, well-loved and supported by parents but socially incompetent bulldozes their way through other people's lives and emotions with complete disregard for the outcome.
Aleks/Alexis is staying with his/her—and I am going with his/her because the character specifically says he/she thinks in black and white and that genderfluid doesn't fit—intensely religious and estranged aunt and uncle while he/she recovers from the trauma of being assaulted at a convention and decides how he/she wants to move forward with the future. Between his/her room's location adjacent to the confessional—and a general disregard for privacy and respect for other human beings—Aleks/Alexis learns of the problems from various churchgoers and sets to right them. Until he/she discovers someone at the congregation is sexually abusing boys and his/her Uncle Bryan is forgiving them instead of reporting it to the police.
Here's the problem: Aleks/Alexis leads the plot and he/she is a walking bundle of bad assumptions, stupid decisions and social incompetence. Not the "cute" or "quirky" type of social incompetence, or the unfortunate and pitiable type of social incompetence, but the dangerous, mindless sort which harms other people and leads the reader to endless screaming.
Structurally, the whole thing is a mess: Aleks/Alexis follows people, photographs their license plates, stalks them online, listens in on private conversations and acts like a creepy little twerp. The plot really never develops beyond these basics: Aleks/Alexis overhears something, acts upon it, has a bunch of intrusive thoughts makes every conversation and in encounter super awkward along the way. (And not in the way Siegert is aware or in control of.) He/she jumps to massive assumptions based on scant information and blunders around. Overhearing the confession of sexual abuse, which is the biggest plot point, doesn't happen until well over halfway through.
One of the biggest faults for me was when Aleks/Alexis automatically assumes the only other gay guy must be the pedophile. Like, really? Not only can he/she not tell the vocal difference between two characters with a dramatic age difference, we get, "This other, conveniently handy gay guy must be the predator. Only thing that makes sense. Yup."
Aleks/Alexis's guilt after doesn't make up for it. What makes it a problem is that Siegert thought it was appropriate to include at all.
The handling of Aleks/Alexis's intrusive thoughts was poor: Siegert's choice to bold them between paragraphs rendered them crude, melodramatic and hard to take seriously
If Siegert approached the story from a different angle and supplied a protagonist who isn't a complete ass, Somebody Told Me could be thoughtful, moving novel instead of a half-assed, melodramatic shitshow. Contrasting Uncle Bryan's empty religious gestures with Aleks/Alexis's direct action opens up so much discussion about religion and acts of kindness and intention, especially since Aleks/Alexis's new friends don't always strictly agree with doctrine. What's God's intent? To punish, to teach, to test? Is a steadfast nonbeliever more godly for a quantifiable contribution than a devout believer who only offers prayers? Somebody Told Me has SO much potential along these lines.
(There's also a couple little logical things that threw me. One, I doubt Aleks/Alexis could produce costumes that quickly. Especially ones that are apparently top-tier quality. Actually, I'm very, very sure, since I asked an experienced friend, who burst out laughing.
Another: If Aleks/Alexis has such a good relationship with his/her parents, why can't he/she tell them? This makes no sense psychologically.)
Characters Aleks/Alexis gave me a headache.
Honestly? He/she is the worst part of the book. A character needs flaws, but readers need to want to follow the main character, whether they're likable or intriguing or we can appreciate their tenacity or cleverness. I felt an obligatory pity for Aleks/Alexis. That is the most positive thing I can say: a poor kid was assaulted and I'm not dead inside.
Primarily, I was annoyed. Aleks/Alexis was overdramatic, acted genuinely creepy, kept coming to terrible conclusions and kept turning those terrible conclusions into stupid decisions. He/she had zero respect for boundaries. Beyond the obvious privacy issues, he/she kept touching characters at inappropriate moments. His/her overall social incompetence drove me bonkers, and I say that as a socially clumsy person myself. Aunt Anne Marie talks about her ovarian cancer and Aleks/Alexis is like, "I need to leave now," and "What do I SAY to that?" like it's complicated. You say "I'm sorry you went through that," or "I'm glad you're still here with us." You don't fucking bounce!
I kept seeing him/her from the other characters' point of view: you're already dealing with something emotionally huge, be it guilt, abuse or the abuse of a friend. Suddenly, your priest's nephew/niece is there. This kid is moody and dramatic, prone to outbursts. He/she keeps saying awkward things or cuts off a conversation and leaves. You keep finding him/her spying on your other friends. He/she keeps grabbing your hand in public or stroking your face, despite multiple rebukes. This is not the kind of person you want in your life. This is not the kind of character people like to read about.
The supporting cast was characterized surprisingly well. Bernadette, Dima, Joey and Anne Marie in particular had distinct personalities. I'm actually a little sad we didn't see Aleks/Alexis bond with Aunt Anne Marie more. I wanted to learn more about these issues between Anne Marie and the Mom, and I wanted to see what kind of relationship Aleks/Alexis could form with her. They share a hobby and Aunt Anne Marie clearly cares for him/her, but their views conflict. There was a lot of potential between them, but Siegert never brought it to fruition. Uncle Bryan felt a little forced, and Mom and Dad were generically supportive parents, but nothing to complain about. However, Joey and Dima's guilt, along with the predatory character in the Catholic church bordered on stereotypical. These are serious topics, I don't think it was appropriate to use either as what was essentially background drama to Aleks/Alexis's narrative.
Writing Style Somebody Told Me is written in first person, past tense from Aleks/Alexis's point of view.
In terms of sentence structure and flow, Siegert's writing is mostly clean and readable. However, there's a good deal of telling over showing, weak word choices and too many internal monologues from Aleks/Alexis, bogging the prose down.
Additionally, her storytelling method was flawed. She made the same mistake a lot of amateur and unpractised authors do: trying to force the reader to feel Aleks/Alexis's every emotion as opposed to building scenes and giving meaning to instances to draw emotion from the reader. It's exhausting.
Themes and Representation I didn't really pick out the supposed themes the cover promises at all. Survival didn't register, identity was Aleks/Alexis arguing with the voice in his/her head rather than an intelligent portrayal of the subject, and the trauma part was sketchy as hell. I'd say Somebody Told Me was more about guilt and forgiveness, primarily. I actually liked the forgiveness angle, especially when Aleks/Alexis is thinking about Lee, a toxic ex-boyfriend.
It does not surprise me AT ALL that Siegert lists Kiersi Burkhart—who wrote both one of the worst queer books and the worst book I've ever read in general—as one of her sensitivity readers. Did she include a gay man or survivor of child sexual abuse in this pool of readers at all? Having one queer character automatically jump to assuming the only gay character who's used the confessional before is a pedophile is homophobic. Gay men have been unjustly vilified as perverts and deviants far too often for a queer author to be writing this shit in 2020.
More "can't believe this shit in 2020"—Bernadette is the only character of colour and Siegert intentionally keeps her as a generically brown character.
Also, the age gaps between the romantic partners involved were definitely creepy. No, math does not make a twenty-year-old dating a seventeen-year-old okay. What twenty-year-old is thinking about a seventeen-year-old? I remember being twenty, and not even a mature or experienced twenty, and seventeen-year-olds seemed like infants, comparatively.
I'm sorry, but based on Aleks/Alexis's admission of largely untreated mental health issues from a young age, his/her cosplay personas, the admitted addiction to validation and attention, coupled the way he/she says "boy-me does this" or "girl-me does that," it sounds more Aleks/Alexis has massive deep-rooted psychological issues. Possibly even some sort of personality disorder, who knows? He/she could still be bigender, of course! But it really sounds Aleks/Alexis has formulated different personas to meet different emotional needs or explain different feelings. He/she assigns different traits to Aleks and Alexis—Aleks is more impulsive and charismatic, for example. Aleks/Alexis even takes on the Raziel when helping people, a third part of him/her frequently referenced as the book goes on. Given how scarce representation is, I don't think it's the best idea to put out characters like this. However, a bigender person themselves would be able to dig into this better than I could.
Recommended For... If you are so, so desperate for bigender or genderqueer representation you'd rather read anything than nothing. Otherwise, don't waste your time. Go listen to The Killers' song the book was named after instead: it's still mildly problematic but at least it's good.
I received this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
It's been almost a month since I finished this book, and I still have no idea how to review it. I think this is for two reasons. (1) reading Somebody Told Me was honestly such a surreal experience and I don't entirely know what to make of it, and (2) this book focused so heavily on extremely personal experiences that I quite frankly cannot speak on
That said, this book was utterly fantastic, so while I'm going to keep this short I'm going to list a few things that I loved about it:
- Aleks/Alexis's voice was so strong and absolutely carried the book. I've rarely read any book with this strong a voice, and it utterly blew me away - The discussions on religion and abuse of religious power it had, without villainizing religion in any way - The side characters were so wonderfully fleshed out and alive - The discussions on fandom and how it can be toxic sometimes - I also thought the character growth we see in Aleks/Alexis was so powerful and beautifully written
SOMEBODY TOLD ME is one of the most thoughtful books I’ve ever read about gender and religion, and what they mean to a person’s sense of self. Through a protagonist whose gender is not fixed, Siegert does a magnificent job of exploring how expectations—from within and without—shape the interaction between identity and society.
This book is also just a really compelling and well-balanced slow-burn thriller, full of complex and fully-realized characters. (And I LIVE for LGBTQIA thrillers!) I’m so glad I got to read this one!!
Somebody told me this book had a non-binary MC, and honestly, that was all I needed to know. The rep was unlike anything I've read before and I loved it. It was a very prominent part of the book as well, because Aleks/Alexis changes gender quite frequently, and they discussed their gender feels a lot, which was amazing to see represented.
I did feel like this book was really slow to start. Halfway into it, I still had no clue what direction the book would take, or what exactly the plot was.
That said, the tone of the book really appealed to me, and I had a really hard time putting it down. So despite the plot being slow to start, it was a very quick and engaging read.
I was very lucky to have read this when it was still a draft and let me tell you, I immediately knew it had what it takes to make its way into readers hands. Mia has gotten even better and this story will blow you away.
Somebody Told Me is a thought provoking story that doesn't shy away from asking all the hard hitting questions, a look behind the curtains of cosplay and the dark sides of fandom and teens, as well as offering a unique view on one of the most discussed and controversial topics ever and outstanding representation of and insight into what it's truly like to be a bigender teen.
I just cannot get over the fact that nothing about this book’s marketing seems to mention the fact that it’s very heavily about cosplay/conventions/fandom. The cosplay community is such an integral part of this book that the “past trauma” Aleks/Alexis has to come to terms with is something that could really only have happened to them at a convention. Which is not to say there aren’t still important takeaways from learning about that experience, because there are, but the situation presented in the book is 100% con-specific.
And it just feels like such a huge miss to not then market this book towards teens who go to cons and who engage with fandom, both online and in-person. Not everyone finds their best friends and their perfect community in fandom, and the cosplay community in particular struggles a LOT with navigating people’s genders and sexualities, as well as with objectification/consent/abuse/assault/etc., all of which are explored here in a way that’s real and eye-opening and could be so useful to younger people in these communities. But no, apparently that’s not the audience the publisher wanted this book to have.
Whatever. I think this book could be important to a lot of people, but it wasn’t really for me personally. I had some issues with the writing being a bit simplistic, characters being a bit too much like caricatures of themselves, and plot posts/twists being overstated and obvious, but I think all of that can be chalked up to the fact that I’m outside of the intended age group for this book. It’s refreshing to see a depiction of fandom that acknowledges its darker sides and isn’t just the happy place where a character feels truly at home.
Hoo boy. I... no. I was so, so excited for this one (bigender rep! An author who worked as a costume designer on my favourite TV show!) and it just did not work for me at all. I hate to give a poor review, especially to a book which has rep that we've never seen before, and I wouldn't do it if I thought a book was just not my cup of tea, but parts of this were disturbing and possibly harmful, so here we go.
The good: - bigender rep, which I've never seen before in a book. I'd love to see more of it, and I'm so glad that books with protagonists who aren't cis are being published more frequently, especially when they're own voices. I know that the author of this book uses they/them pronouns but I don't know their gender identity, so I can't say if this is own voices or not; I have a feeling that it might be. - a complex and often unreliable narrator, which is my personal favourite type of narrator, so a thousand yays for that. - some nuanced discussion of people's relationship with God, within and outside of organised religion. I liked how characters who were part of the Catholic church had their own opinions on things and were shown to question doctrine without questioning their faith. That, to me, was realistic and sensitive. - good depiction of Comic cons and the skeevy stuff that goes on there when the boundary between fans / creators / characters is crossed. I've been to cons with friends who have been assaulted because people allowed themselves to think of people as nothing more than characters, and it's a very real problem. It was interesting to see it depicted here. - pretty capable writing, if a little bland.
The bad: - what. The fuck. Was the plot?! It made sense up until about 65% of the way through, when all of a sudden we're hit with . - confession booths don't have vents, so it's not possible that Al/eks/is would have been able to listen to people's confessions in the way that they did. I can suspend my disbelief a little, but that was a bit much, really; the whole central conceit of the book just fell flat. - the actual plot of the book as it's marketed (a bigender teen overhears a priest confess to molesting someone and the teenager then goes on a mission to solve the case) doesn't start until 63% of the way into the book. The entire first half - which I actually preferred! - is about them settling into life in their temporary home with their religious relatives, and trying to act as a guardian angel to other people in order to distract themself from their own problems and trauma. That, to me, was a way more interesting concept than the ridiculously melodramatic and overblown second half of the book, which was like a weird TV soap opera.
The ugly: - the fact that the protagonist identifies themself as 'one of those gay rights people' but then immediately suspects the only gay person they know of being a paedophile, based on no other evidence besides the fact that they're gay. They literally say at one point that 'all evidence points to [character]', but the only evidence is that this character is gay and went to confession once. Is that gay rights? I think not. - the protagonist is absolutely awful with respect to other people's boundaries. They keep randomly touching the person that they have a crush on, even though this person tells them repeatedly not to. They also listen to people's confessions in the confession booth without their knowledge or consent and then intervene in people's lives, which is just so out of order that it made it very hard to empathise with the character. I don't mind an unlikeable narrator, and this wouldn't make me give a book a low rating, but when Al/eks/is mentioned to one of the nuns that they had been doing this, it seemed to be forgiven when they made it clear that they had tried to help the people that they'd intervened with. This, to me, made it seem like their actions were supposed to be viewed as justifiable, but they just weren't. All the awful things that the protagonist does are painted as totally fine, and they're just... not. - the protagonist seemed incredibly mentally ill for the duration of this book, which is fine if that's actually touched upon and dealt with within the narrative, but it isn't here. They hear voices constantly (and they do actually hear them as auditory hallucinations, as is made clear when they overhear someone's confession and note that the voice 'sounds different') and seem to have constructed two totally separate personalities, Aleks and Alexis, to embody different facets of their personality, and experience a 'switch' similar to people with DID when they change gender. I can't say if that's accurate to bigender people or not because, as I said, I'm not bigender, but a lot of Al/eks/is' behaviour was very concerning in this book. They finally agree to get therapy at the end, but it's only very, very briefly mentioned. I would have liked a bit more discussion of how their gender was separate to their trauma, because the conflation of the two made it seem like their gender was almost a symptom of it, and I don't know how accurate that is to many bigender people.
Overall, I'm glad this book exists, but I wish it were better. I feel like it needed more editorial work and some more sensitivity reads.
Disclaimer: The author and i are good buddies. At least i'd like to think so. I hope we still are after this review at least. Oh boy....
Let's start off with what i liked. Every scene where Alexis/Aleks was by themselves was impactful and insightful. Every time they confronted themselves in the mirror, or during unavoidable physiological events, felt illuminating. And as someone who has absolutely no point of reference for those living as bigender, i really liked those scenes. I liked seeing the struggle, not with society, or religion, but just with themselves.
I also liked near the end where the two personalities (i suppose though the additional trauma of the climax) seemed to merge into one consciousness, at least for the time being. Which rose some interesting questions in me with respect to the catalyst which sparked Alexis toward becoming bigender in the first place.
Also, those anime that are referenced all throughout the book aren't 'real', which i actually thought was rather neat. If i didn't read the end notes of the book, i wouldn't have realized and i thought that was a nice piece of worldbuilding. I could easily see those shows as contemporaries of Utena or something. Very cool.
And now for things that didn't really work for me. To my mind there are three plots running concurrently. There's Aleks dealing with their assault, Alexis trying to reconnect with their estranged Aunt and Uncle while also confronting their beliefs, and there's the final thread of Raziel eavesdropping on confessions. I think, given the length of the novel, one of these three had to be cut as none of them seem to resolve very well.
I took the assault to be a rather compelling plot thread. I don't know about you guys, but cons can get kinda funky depending on the time of day, and i don't care how hygienic you are, that's eighty people. Chances are good some of them needed to aquatint themselves with soap. Add to that the fact that this Lee fellow basically pimped out the main character and they were subsequently manhandled for lord knows how long, it's rough. This is all resolved at the end with a very strongly worded email. Now, this didn't need to have a violent confrontation, as even Aleks, the more aggressive personality, i don't think, is a necessarily violent person. Just wound up and a bit jumpy. But there's a difference between facing someone in person, and going at them through the barrier of a screen. Did it feel unresolved? I think an argument could be made. At the very least it felt undercooked. It didn't have the oomph that i thought the situation deserved.
Every time Alexis interacted with their Aunt and Uncle was unfortunate to read. These wonderful confrontations and discussions were being set up about identity and societal legitimacy and faith, but every time one got going, it was abruptly dropped and the plot moved on. The passage where the Aunt reveals her cancer is never explored. Whatever progress might have been made as Alexis and their Aunt bond over sewing is never shown. And when the hard hitting question finally come out near the end they're just left unresolved in favor of the rapidly approaching ending. I think this would have been stronger had Alexis had their own relationship with some sort of faith. As it is they were just generally agnostic, and really couldn't care less whether they connected with their relatives or not. i wonder what would happen if they were also Catholic. How did they cope with it? How do they struggle with it? Do they perhaps confide in their more experienced relatives despite the hostility just for the sake of an answer? As it is, there were no stakes to this plot thread.
This is equally true of Alexis' allies. Throughout the book they suggest that they support Aleks/Alexis while also being Catholic. I would have liked to see them maybe cite some scripture to give themselves some more 'credibility', as it were. I thought it was a bit too easy to just say they were alright with a person when the institution they belong to, broadly speaking, wouldn't be.
Which brings me to the confessional plot. Others have mentioned that this seems fairly unlikely as confessionals are specifically made to be private booths, and a vent, to my mind at least, would be fairly visible if for no other reason than for maintenance. Also, i'm not a hundred percent sure but i think Aleks' room is on the second floor, and the church has its confessional, i assume, on the ground floor, which would likely put the vent somewhere at or above eye level. People would see it. This can be fixed though maybe a church that's falling into disrepair. There are cracks everywhere. No one pays it any mind because it's always been like that. Fundraisers are in place to fix it. Maybe Alexis doesn't get whole conversations, but snatches of information, adding to the ethical and moral grayness of the whole endeavor.
As it is i was unconvinced by the guardian angel angle. They helped, maybe two people before the main plot of the book kicked in. That hardly sets a prescience or much of a pattern. And the way they went about their help seemed unrealistic. The community seems rather small as we don't have much evidence to the contrary. No one knows you exist unless you put your resume out there. It seems unlikely that job offers would come to you without you putting yourself out there first. And if you haven't been, that's a red flag. While i can't speak to the high end costume market, the speed with which the money was raised was a bit perplexing and could have used some more time to establish effort. I think its mentioned later on that Alexis sold some of their already made costumes, but that wasn't quite made clear in the beginning. I had it in my head that they made all new costumes in a matter of hours that racked up two thousand bucks. A thousand dollars toward a twenty five thousand dollar debt is well and good, but that message was direct evidence that this person's spiritual privacy was being violated. The man could be very devout, but i don't think even he quite expects angels, much less archangels to literally come down and render aid. Unless it's the end times.
The situation between Jameson, Dimitri and head honcho, whose name escapes me, i think could have used a little more foreshadowing. Which, i accept isn't the easiest to do in first person as the main character literally has to be there or otherwise hear about it. It all just sort of blasts out in the last quarter of the book and is a bit disorienting.
This can be fixed with more and smaller instances of Raziel rendering aid. All the time they flirt with getting caught and near misses from being revealed. All the while, rumors and suspicion mount. They get more and more snatches of information about the Jameson Dimitri situation. And all of that finally snowballs into the final arc of the book where it all finally catches up with Raziel. i wasn't looking for Batman here, but i think there could have been more tension.
But then there's also the question of why someone who's looking to lay low and recover is willingly putting themselves out there and risking being revealed, really, on the very first day they showed up. This, i don't think, is very well explored. They just do it cause they feel some imperative to? Okay, why?
Which brings me to the voice in their head. The questions in the back of the book seem to suggest that the voice is one, the other, or perhaps even a burgeoning third personality. I didn't really get this impression as it was either being a petulant child, slinging the lowest level insults i couldn't laugh harder at, or it was being limpwristedly supportive. I didn't feel like this was a genuine voice to acknowledge in Aleks' mind, but just some kind of psychotic fissure to be healed at some point. Though even then, it's hard to tell when progress was being made, it had such swings in intent.
I'm not honestly sure why all of that couldn't just be normal internal dialog. I think Alexis has enough on their plate than to add voices in their head. I even read a few chapters ignoring the voice and i didn't feel i lost anything for it.
As a consequence of the first half of the book resolving very conveniently, and the emphasis on the convention lore, which i thought could have been cut down significantly seeing as it didn't actually have as much bearing on the overall plot as maybe it once did, the whole book reads less like a novel about a wounded bigender person looking to recover and find some mooring in life, and more like an overburdened public service announcement.
But why did i get so up in arms about this? I gave the author's previous outing, Jerkbait a star rating and moved on, and that had its flaws too. I think i came to expect too much from this book. I was very excited to read about a bigender person as i have absolutely no point of reference for that, and i was excited to learn about it. I was excited to feel the ups and downs of it, the discomfort, the mistrust, the uncertainty, the intolerance. I wanted to go through those fires with them so that i could emerge on the other side with a better understanding of a wider slice of reality.
This is the most tone-deaf book I have read in my entire life. Instead of dedicating an entire lengthy review of why this book is horrifically offensive to multiple groups of people, I will just bullet them here.
1. The main character, Aleks/Alexis is very judgmental, hypocritical, self-interested and had the worst internal dialogue I have ever read.
2. Alex/Alexis assuming immediately that because someone is gay, they must be the pedophile in the story.
3. The ENTIRE novel is dedicated to simplistic comments on consent and healthy relationships yet glorifies multiple inappropriate ones with minor characters throughout.
4. Aleks/Alexis going on a "educating the masses" crusade while also not know what the hell is happening to him/her was just terribly done.
5. Aleks/Alexis clearly has some form of mental illness that cause the trauma Aleks/Alexis experienced to literally mold itself to a personality and voices in the head. But that wasn't addressed once.
And that is just some of what is wrong with the main character in this book. I am not part of other minority groups, like bigender or trans, so I won't comment on those groups. Plenty of other reviews mention this. However, let's move onto the theme I wanted to talk about: how Catholicism is portrayed in this book. How the author wrote Catholic characters is the most offensive and distasteful writing style I have ever encountered. I cannot imagine this writing being applied to other religions and this being allowed to be published. Here of my bulleted thoughts:
1. Clearly this person has never been to Confession, nor did any research to ensure that the dialogue in the Confessional was realistic. There are never entire conversations in the Confessional, nor do prayers "change" based on the people who are in them. Confessionals do not have vents, nor would they be in the Rectory of the Church.
2. While eavesdropping to Confessionals, which in and of itself is extremely disrespectful even if one could hear them, Aleks/Alexis refers to someone entering the Confessional as: "Could there be any one more pathetic on this planet?" "I was temped to scream into the vent 'get over it loser!..." Because that is just so nice to say of other people that are turning to religion to help remedy past wrong and find meaning in their lives. Annoying MC.
3. Overgeneralization of Catholic Doctrine when it comes to making an argument. There were so many times that the author could have made more well fleshed out points related to pro-choice and Catholicism, homophobia, transphobia and other topics. Instead, the author didn't to the research nor invested the time to actually make a point and just slapped on the "well it's against Catholic Doctrine" line.
4. Stating that God *gives* people cancer. Yeah, I'll just leave that one here.
6. Using the author's note at the end to basically pull a: "Well I have plenty of Catholic friends and family members and I talked to experts, so this is totally okay."
This book was repetitive, boring, and just terribly written. Even after many typos and poor writing, I think that this book generally never got edited nor read by and sensitivity panels. Do not recommend.
Somebody Told Me is an absolute masterpiece of tone and introspection. If you're looking for a book that focuses primarily on the outward, this probably isn't the book for you. If you're looking for a book that centers on the inward and the thought processes behind our responses to the outward... It most certainly is the book for you.
What does that mean?
Essentially, it means that despite the very real world conflicts that occur in this novel, they're not at the forefront of the story. Rather, the focus is on what goes on in Aleks/Alexis's head when they face these conflicts. What makes Somebody Told Me gripping is that it's reactionary - the reader focuses on the POV character's visceral reactions to the good and the bad that they experience as the story unfolds.
This wouldn't work if Aleks/Alexis wasn't such a strong character. Luckily for us, they're a very strong character, with a distinct voice, distinct personality, and distinct problems. They also talk like an actual seventeen-year-old, which a lot of you know is a point of contention for me with some YA novels. I don't think this book would have worked quite as well without the first person narration, so kudos to Siegert for making the right call.
Thematically, this book has a lot say on the Catholic church and religion in general. It's a blatant commentary on how canon law enables abuse of the church's power structure. Which... Yeah. Definitely true. It also refuses to paint religious people in an inherently bad light - certainly, there are those characters who use it to perpetrate disrespect and even abuse, but there are also those who legitimately find comfort in their faith and loathe the misuse that goes on under their noses. It's definitely nice to see that duality acknowledged, especially when most books I've read take it in one direction or the other.
Also, Aleks/Alexis's journey to self-acceptance and seeking help for themself after their ordeal was very powerful to experience. The journey felt real, organic, and it feels good to see where the character is at the end of the book compared to the beginning.
Somebody Told Me is a riveting exploration of identity, recovery, and responsibility. It tells us that forgiveness isn't always the answer: our traumas are our own to respond to and recover from, and we aren't responsible for the feelings of those who have hurt us. It condemns the underlying system of Catholicism that allows for abuse of power while also exploring the reasons people are drawn to it and how faith can coexist with queer identity.
I was immediately pretty sucked into this book, but as I kept reading I wondered when we were going to finally get to what I expected to be the main plot based off of the summary. Well that plot of overhearing a priest making a confession doesn’t start to over 60% in the book, and while I had enjoyed most of what I read in the first 60% it quickly went downhill from there. I do think most of my dislike was a me thing but dislike it I did.
The plan to catch this priest made me so uncomfortable that I didn’t want to keep reading. I don’t really know why it made me so uncomfortable but the whole time I kept thinking there has to be a better way to catch this guy, and the fact that people who were adults and in positions of power over the main character thought this was the best solution just adds more to my discomfort. I don’t think I would have been so uncomfortable with the whole situation if this had been a thriller because then I would have expected this kind of plan to be made, but in a book that was very much NOT of thriller it just felt like we were putting Alexis/Aleks in unneeded danger.
There was also insta-love which anybody who knows me knows that’s a thing I hate but this was even worse than usual. Our main character falls for a nun and then touches her hair which obviously makes the nun go, “No, you can’t do that” but does that stop Alexis/Aleks from doing it again later in the book? No, of course not. But does this none somehow end of returning Alexis’/Aleks’ feelings by the end of the book? Yes, of course because insta-love.
Alexis/Aleks was very judgmental which I liked at first because we could see them trying to overcome this and work on this aspect of their personality. But then Alexis/Aleks never actually seemed to learn and made some leaps of logic with no actual evidence and very much could have ruined somebody’s life over it.
Lastly I do want to mention that there are a LOT of thoughts of self-hate through out the book. So if you do plan on reading this be prepared for those especially in the first half of the book. Triggers warnings as well for sexual assault, transphobia, and murder.
I really enjoyed this book right from the beginning. I don't read a lot of novels that feature trans teens so it was an interesting chance of pace from what I'm used to. One of the things that I really enjoyed was how supportive Alex/Alexis' mother was in their transition, and how fiercely she stood up for her child against anyone even her own family. This gave it another nice change since I"m used to trans teens being oppressed in the few stories I read with them. This book starts off with a huge problem of Alex/Alexis dealing with their persistent and unexpected changes between genders, not being accepted by their family as well as them being sent to spend the summer with their aunt and uncle. While they are with their relatives they realize that their bedroom is right next to the priests' confessional and they are able to hear all of the people confessing their sins. Alex/Alexis decides that it is up to them to try their best to help the people who's confessions they have unintentionally overheard. There were many things discussed in this book that really connected to me on a human level and made the characters really seem real not just an image from someone's brain. While the story was nice and light at parts it also covered on lots of dark subjects such as abuse, homophobia, and murder. This made it very different but a must read. I"m very glad that I got the chance to check out this book I would highly suggest it to anyone. I loved all of the twists in this book. Right when I thought I knew everything that was going to happen and was just trying to figure out what the author was going to talk about for the rest of the book I was thrown a huge curve ball that made me more invested and more confused about what was actually going on. Great read, so much better than I expected!
This novel is so much more than a book to do with a bigender character. I mean, their being bigender is the inciting incident that leads to Aleks/Alexis living with their uncle and aunt, against their mum's best wishes mind you. Aunt Anne Marie and Uncle Bryan are late converters to the Catholic church. Bryan is a priest there.
What was really interesting--and written in Mia's author's note at the end--was the way that Alexis/Aleks first showed themselves to be uncomfortable with the overt Catholicism and yet, from the very first meeting with Sister Bernadette, it became quite clear that it was not what they thought.
Sister Bernadette is such an important character in this book, not just because of the crush Alexis/Aleks has on her, but because she shows a side of Catholicism that I've not seen present in many LGBT books: The way her faith with God is is shown to be incredibly personal and not dependent on converting everyone else around her. It's not about homophobia or transphobia.
And it isn't suddenly perverted by one man of faith's criminal actions towards a minor character (both in presence in the story, and in age).
Another first in this novel, at least in mainstream literature, is that the main character of this novel is bigender. Towards the end of the book, they are even beginning to question whether there are more genders within them that they haven't yet explored.
This is such a wonderful thing that's explored throughout the novel, but not made a big deal of. Mia writes about this changing gender within one person, and the difficulties that come given that it's not a gender expression that a lot of people even within trans and nonbinary circles talk about.
It's a very personal character note for me given that Mia was the first bi- or multigender person I spoke to after realising that was my own gender expression.
Okay, there's a lot to unpack here. I'll be honest, I didn't read the whole book, but I have a lot of qualms as a bigender mentally ill person with... everything. And am very confused about the author's experiences with gender if this is own voices.
So, first of all, bigender isn't a gender identity based on facilitating between a girl self and a boy self in an odd ableist mockery of DID/OSDD (I do not have DID/OSDD & I am a singlet, but I have close friends who do and have spoken about this type of ableist portrayal before). I suppose that's how some people might experience it, sans the idea that the different gender-modes had different personalities, but considering the author says people should read this to learn what bigender is it is... very misleading.
For those who don't know, bigender is simply someone who's gender identity comprises of two genders. Usually, this is someone who is, to some extent, both man and woman all of the time. This isn't the only experience, and the experience of being bigender can be fluid for some people. But the identity "bigender" alone means being two genders as one identity, not as different selves you facilitate between. It also is not necessarily man/woman, it can include cultural genders.
I don't mean to speak over the author at all, and if bigender is what the author feels speaks to their own experience-- and that this is their experience-- all power to them. Trans and nonbinary identities are complex! But this is far from the baseline definition, it is not bigender 101, it is actively misleading for people who are not familiar with bigender, and relies on ableist tropes.
None of this even touches on the shitty handling of CSA and homophobia and racism.
I am so fortunate to have been a critique partner and all-around writing buddy cheerleader alongside Mia for over two years now. We're the kind of friends that come to each other with plot help, and when she told me the concept of this book, how it would unfold, and the twists...I was hooked!
I was excited to consult on certain issues, but also to learn more. How would this person relate to that person? Okay, but who is the one you really need to look out for? This is a story about a teen wanting to do good things for people who are hard on their luck. At the same time, this leads to learning a horrible secret, a secret they know they must tell...but can they bring themself to turn in someone they've grown to trust?
Aleks/Alexis is a troubled and complex character who is dealing with their own trauma while also trying to help other people after overhearing confessions. At first, they try to help people who are struggling, but by the end of the book they are trying to bring down someone who committed an awful crime that was being covered up by the church. Their inner turmoil throughout the book was a big deal and they had a lot to overcome, I think the topics of gender and trauma were dealt with delicately. I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book, just because 'enjoyed' doesn't feel like the right word considering the heavy topics, but it's an important story and I'm glad I read it.
I really struggled to finish this one. It‘s quite some time before the main story begins and until then there’s a lot of internal monologue that got kind of repetitive and unfortunately couldn’t get me invested in the story. When the main plot gets going, it is kind of all over the place with the main character making ridiculous assumptions based off of no evidence and then acting so stupidly, it was a pain to read. I thought the romance was also quite weird. They talk for a few times, each time really shortly, then
I really, really admire and appreciate all the things that Mia writes about. She takes a lot of risks in her writing, and I hope that other readers will see that just as much as I do. So many interesting and important topics are brought ip in this book, and I think that's why it was so important and impactful for me. Here's to seeing more bigender characters in books! This was the first one I had ever read!
if you're in the right state of mind to read about themes of sexual assault, homophobia, and transphobia in catholicism, then i highly recommend this one! not an easy read in the slightest, but very powerful in its message.
note: Aleks/Alexis is bigender and uses both she/her and he/him pronouns at different points throughout the story, but for the clarity of this review I'll refer to him as Aleks and he/him.
I was really excited for this one because I thought it had the potential to become one of my favorite reads of the year. I really, really wanted to like this one, especially because it has a bigender MC (!!) and it sounded like it dealt with themes of religion and queerness and how the two intersected.
Unfortunately, though, this one fell really flat for me. While I appreciated what it was trying to do, I just don't think it really got there?? With anything to be honest. The ending was my favorite part of the whole thing to be honest, and even that felt disjointed, so I'm just :((
I think Aleks was really underdeveloped as the main character?? I just couldn't connect to him at all because I didn't know anything about him. I honestly couldn't tell you at all what his personality was like?? And I wanted to like him, I really did, but when it came down to it, I just didn't find there was anything there for me to like or hate or care about at all. Although, I will say that I did really appreciate Aleks' relationship with his mom that was really well-written!! More supportive parents in fiction pls!! I will say that I would have liked to hear more about his cosplay because that was really glossed over.
I will say that I did really like what we saw of the relationships that Aleks develops over the course of the book, but I do feel like they were very underdeveloped and they should have been given a lot more page time than they were. That said, I did think the romance (? if you can call it that) came out of nowhere and I felt absolutely zero chemistry between Aleks and the love interest, so that's also really fun!! And by fun, I mean very disappointing because I went into this book asking to feel something and I felt,,, nothing.
I also thought the inciting incident that started the plot was?? questionable and also the plot involved a lot of stalking which just made me uncomfortable. Also, the pacing of the plot was all over the place, which left me feeling really bored in some places and barely able to catch my breath in others. Though, I did really appreciate the critique and examination of the Catholic church without making it seem like the author was attacking the entire religion. I thought the exploration of faith and organized religion and the things it condones in the name of God was really interesting and I really appreciated having it there, although I do wish it had gone into more detail.
Overall, I think this is a book that was really filled to the brim with potential, but unfortunately just fell really flat for me personally. That said, I do still encourage you to pick it up if you think you might enjoy it because my opinion is one of many and there are plenty of people who have enjoyed this book!
I really liked this book, it was eye opening to many issues and it told me more about the catholic faith. The fact that Aleks/Alexis is bigender also was interesting as it showed the change between the two and the difference in the person themselves when they are each person. I found that the blurb was quite deceptive though as the point in the blurb didn't come up in the book until I was 62% into the book. Overall I thought it was a really good book and definitely would read again if I had the time.
Aleks/Alexis is a troubled and complex character who is dealing with their own trauma while also trying to help other people after overhearing confessions. At first, they try to help people who are struggling, but by the end of the book they are trying to bring down someone who committed and awful crime that was being covered up by the church. Their inner turmoil throughout the book was a big deal and they had a lot to overcome, I think the topics of gender and trauma were dealt with delicately. I wouldn't say I enjoyed this book, just because 'enjoyed' doesn't feel like the right word considering the heavy topics, but it's an important story and I'm glad I read it. I would also recommend it to others.
This was a really fun one for me. It read quickly, which was impressive given how much of the subject matter was really foreign to me (I'm not so familiar with Catholicism or cosplay, or really any of the hobbies of anyone in the story). In fact, my favorite part was the opportunity to learn about some of the things I'm not so familiar with, especially the bigender protagonist. While I consider myself to be open-minded and allied, this was one self-identification that I just wasn't as familiar with, and reading the story of Alexis/Aleks helped me understand it a bit better and will help me better interact with bigender folks in real life. I definitely recommend it for anyone who's considering whether this might be an appropriate identification for themselves, to not only learn but to realize they're not alone.
While I really enjoyed Jerkbait, I think I enjoyed Somebody Told Me even more!
i find it ironic that a book that has pedophilia as the force driving the main conflict also makes excuses for unhealthy age gaps. eighteen year olds should not be dating twenty-three year olds, especially when said eighteen-year-old is still in high school. the fact that this gets called out withing the narrative makes it much worse, since the mc states that the fact that the older partner waited means something. this is textbook grooming, regardless of who initiates the relationship, and the fact that it takes place between a gay couple is a new level of fucked up. said pedophilia is also presented as a problem on the individual level, rather than a result of the abuse structures within the catholic church.
came for the nonbinary rep, but all i got was disappointing prose interspersed with justification for pedophilia. do better.
tl;dr - someone needs to ban white fandom moms from touching a keyboard ever again
I was given an e-ARC of this book, this in no way affected my opinion.
The author’s note in the end of the book started with this:
“I wanted to write a book about the ongoing problems in the Catholic Church without attacking Catholics for their faith.”
That’s exactly what the author did.
There’s plenty of themes, and aspects to this book: it discusses religion, gender (more specifically being bigender in today’s society), military parent, fandoms and cosplays, social media, trauma, abuse, to name a few. It’s not afraid to discuss dark themes and questions.
This book is really compelling, and it gives is great insight on bigender teens and how society affects their identity. I’m very grateful to have read this one early.
Wow. This book was just fantastic. The writing is great, and the story is enthralling.
Alexis/ks is a great main character. This was my first exposure to a bigender character, and reading about Alexis/ks's struggle to fit in and deal with past trauma really added depth to the story.
As a self-described "recovering Catholic" who went to school with nuns, I loved the way Bernie and Joey were portrayed here. Their friendship, their easy rapport, the fact that they weren't always formal all brought up some good memories. I'm so glad I read this.
I will be honest this book isn't the genre I typically read, however, I think that Mia Siegert did a great job and I look forward to more of her work. Gender and religion are two very complex topics of discussion in today's culture and In Somebody Told Me not only does the main character have to battle themselves with one of them, but they have to do it with both. Siegert takes risks with her writing and she does it right.